Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cornish Devolution

Last weekend I attended the Cornish Constitutional Convention in Truro to discuss the prospects of devolving new powers to Cornwall and the importance of passing powers down from Cornwall Council to parish and town councils.

Cornwall has its own unique culture and, as a peninsula at the end of the line, also has unique challenges. While I don't agree with those who want to have a costly new "assembly" and pay for another tier of politicians, I do think there are areas like transport and culture and heritage where there is a case for more decision making powers for Cornwall Council.

As a Cornish unionist, for me there are three things that we should aim to achieve when discussing devolution in Cornwall.  Firstly, any new devolution settlement should strengthen the union and should be founded on a solid agreement within the UK, rather than relying on vague recognition by European institutions.  Secondly, it should not just be about giving power to Cornwall Council.  We also need to find ways of transferring control from Cornwall Council to town and parish councils and to the head teachers and governing bodies of individual schools.  Finally, we should remember that devolution should be about empowering people so finding mechanisms such as local referendums which give communities the power to block unpopular decisions are important.  

The Government is currently giving thought to the next wave of "growth deals" which are all about giving responsibility (and also the funding that goes with it) to Local Enterprise Partnerships so they can implement measures that will help their local economy.  There is a good case for more "enterprise zones" in Cornwall to nurture new industry.  As a peninsula, we also have unique challenges making bus services work effectively and there is a case for looking at whether a stronger franchising model could better develop coherence to services.  Finally, We have a unique culture with our own identity and language so there is a case for looking at whether Cornwall should take on more of a role promoting and managing its own heritage assets instead of the existing arrangements with English Heritage. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Planning in Hayle

I have always said that, when it comes to building new homes, we should focus on brownfield sites before greenfield sites. That is why this week I have asked the Secretary of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government to consider calling in the planning appeal currently being considered for over 220 houses on St George's Road in Hayle.  

The proposal is opposed by many Hayle residents. The Town Council opposed the scheme and Cornwall Council had yet to reach a decision when the developer, Linden Homes, decided to by-pass the Council and go straight to appeal based on the fact that Cornwall Council had failed to determine the application.  Although there is no guarantee that the Secretary of State will agree my request, I think it is important that decisions of this magnitude are subject to democratic oversight and scrutiny.

I have supported some other local projects from Linden Homes. The work they have done at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College is impressive and it completes the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project and many of the new homes have been offered through the 'help to buy' scheme for first time home owners.  Linden also do some really good work with apprenticeships in the area creating careers for young people in the construction industry.

However, when it comes to Hayle, I think there are many other sites that should be developed before we start building very large developments on green field sites.  We have just spent several million pounds putting in a new bridge and flood infrastructure at North Quay precisely so that it would be possible to build new homes around the harbour.  There is now room on this site for several hundred homes.  There are also plans for new homes on South Quay and work on the remaining phase is due to start soon.  We should be prioritising building homes first on these brownfield sites which will complete the regeneration of the harbour area.

You only get one chance to get major planning decisions right so we should take time to consider them carefully

Fiber Park Plans

Last week I met Toby Parkins, Chief Executive of Headforwards Software in Pool to discuss the innovative idea of a new Fibre Park in the area.

In recent years we have seen an embryonic but vibrant computer software industry taking root in this part of Cornwall. The big leap forwards came with the introduction of super-fast broadband.  It means that software companies can now compete around the world from a digital connection in Cornwall.  Previously, people often had to choose between a high flying job in London or the lifestyle choice of Cornwall.  That's changing. Today, new industries like software producers can run world beating operations from Camborne and Redruth offering people the best of both worlds.

Headforwards now employs over fifty highly skilled people and is expanding.  Down the road at the new Barncoose Gateway office block, NetBooster have established their main European headquarters and BlueFruit, another highly successful local company, is also moving in.  Between them, local computer software companies are now employing hundreds of people in Camborne and Redruth and they are paying good salaries.  I want to see them grow and prosper and I also want to ensure that young people taking their GCSEs are learning to write computer code so that they can take up these new opportunities.

The concept behind the fibre park proposal is simple.  You create a hub near the Pool Innovation Centre which offers a mixture of state of the art business space and educational space.  It means that up and coming enterprises who have outgrown the innovation centre can move to larger premises and you can also establish an academy in computer software co-located on the same site so that you can have a partnership between, say, Cornwall College and local businesses.  Young people taking computer courses at Cornwall College will be able to develop their talents within real working environments rather than in a classroom detached from front line innovation.  It will take a lot of work to move the idea from being an interesting concept to a real venture, but I think we should give it a shot.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Royal Cornwall Show

This week is Royal Cornwall Show week and on Friday I will be attending a debate as food and farming Minister on the potential for growth in the food industry in Cornwall.  Few people realise it but food is our largest manufacturing industry, employing around half a million people and contributing some £100 billion to our economy.


The question being debated is whether the food industry has the potential to become a key driver of prosperity in Cornwall.  We have seen great progress in recent years. The Cornish pasty industry has grown exponentially and is now to be found throughout the country.  We have seen many new companies like Lynher Dairies creating new markets with their highly acclaimed Cornish Yarg.  Companies like Roddas Cream are creating new export markets and developing a really strong brand synonymous with Cornwall.  Last and by no means least,  companies like Falfish have ensured that Cornwall is the market leader for many fish species.

Over the last decade or so there has been growing interest in food provenance. People want to know where their food has come from and how it was produced.  Cornwall has definitely managed to carve out a niche in that new market through attention to detail and commitment to the values that make Cornwall unique. The Government has just designated parts of Cornwall a "Food Enterprise Zone" to try to provide additional support to the industry and maintain momentum.

I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall Show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible, with an early start at 5 am for days in a row to get to the show and manage the gates before any of the traffic started to arrive. For many years we used to show our South Devon Cattle there and my brother and father will be there again this year with the family's prize winning Lop Eared Pigs, which is a rare breed native to Cornwall. I am very much looking forward to it.